RUWEISHED: Last Friday, along the desert highway to the Iraq border, two American warplanes flew low over the town of Azraq, less than 100km away from the capital of Amman.
Closer to Ruweished, some 80km inside Jordanian territory, two more US military transport aircraft were seen landing at a desert airstrip, leading people here to believe the forces invading Iraq were opening a new front of attack.
The border talk is that a large number of Anglo-American special forces, with Australian troops tagging along, were digging in a western front in their push to conquer Baghdad soon
Several students of Baghdad University and drivers who succeeded in reaching this border town on Friday evening concur with this. They said they were stopped and frisked by US soldiers at a checkpoint on Mahmadiyat bridge, some 250km outside the Iraqi capital.
The soldiers, surrounded by 20 armoured vehicles and tanks, asked people to produce their travel documents, directed them to return to Baghdad or were forced to proceed to the border via alternative desert routes.
“They made us get face down on the ground with their weapons drawn. They asked us to return to Baghdad, warning us never to drive on the highway,” student Faris Saad Faek said on arriving here with three other students.
Another student Adil Maayah, who arrived here on Sunday, said the way American troops dealt with Arabs was totally different from how they dealt with Australian and Italian nationals.
“We do not why they were treating us this way. We are not military personnel,” he told the Jordan Times which quoted Italian engineer Francesco Corbani as saying neither he nor an Australian was searched at the checkpoint.
The Jordanian students and the others said they decided to flee Baghdad due to the intensity of the bombings and missile attacks, fearing for their lives.
Abdullah Nabil, a taxi driver, who took a risk plying the 1,000km Baghdad-Amman highway said he was forced to use another route through the desert to reach the Karama border crossing .
He said the American troops were looking for Iraqi military personnel in vehicles.
Several other people here said they saw burned cars and buses along the flanks of the highway.
The Jordanian military authorities have said that more than 6,000 American troops at the border area were there to help man Patriot missiles in defending their country in the event of a Scud missile attack from Iraq.
Repeatedly, the government has denied that any US troops were operating out of Jordan, which recently received a US$1.1billion general and military aid package.
This generous aid has led some diplomats and journalists to believe there was indeed a hidden front of attack embedded close to the Jordanian border but kept out of the eye of the media.
At least two desert airstrips near oil pumping stations in the area, they said, were in the hands of the Anglo-American-Aussie forces.
They said the American troops have been based at the border for quite sometime now and could have fortified a hidden zone of operations before the attack on Iraq on March 19.
They said that the foreign troops, spread out in the western desert zone stretching to the border with Jordan and Syria, could play a crucial role.
Their troop strength could be beefed up with new arrivals to form a major column of attack moving east towards Baghdad, they speculated.